The video game industry is seeing many interesting changes, not the least of which is the era of downloadable content (DLC). DLC means different things to different people. For some, it means increasing the value of a game. The game becomes longer, more maps, race tracks, and weapons are added. Even new modes of gameplay (such as co-op) are introduced. To others, DLC means selling an incomplete game at full price or restricting the access of content that is already on the game disc. DLC has become big business for publishers. Want an idea of just how profitable DLC can be for publishers? Just log into the Playstation Store or the XBoxLive Marketplace and take a glance at how many song packs are available for the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games. In fact, both Microsoft and Sony proudly boasted of exlusive DLC deals at the E3 expo earlier this month. Most of the time DLC is planned and created alongside the retail game during the development process. This means that the DLC doesn’t come out long after the game has been forgotten by most. DLC allows for gamers to find new life in a game that they may have already exhausted. However, many are claiming that publishers and developers are taking advantage of gamers. In February, 2K Games released Bioshock 2 (PS3, XBox 360, PC). In March, 2K Games released the first downloadable content for the game. It was soon discovered and confirmed by 2K Games that the DLC was already stored on every disc. Gamers were actually paying for an unlock key that allowed them to access the content. Bioshock 2 is not the first time supposed DLC has shipped on the game disc. A similar situation occurred in 2009 with Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 (PS3, XBox 360). EA’s Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PS3, XBox 360, PC) was also recently discovered to sell content already on the retail disc. Free Content The controversy surrounding DLC might not be so prevalent if more content was offered for free. In fact, much of the DLC offered on a console game is free on the game’s PC counterpart. This is especially true of popular DLC items like map packs. In fact, PC games often offer users tools to create their own maps and distribute them freely to other users. When Microsoft launched the XBox 360, DLC was a major focus for the company. They’ve also made it a priority to make sure that the DLC came at a price. Developers have often voiced that they had wished to release their DLC for free, but Microsoft forced them to charge money for the content. Since 2005, most DLC released on consoles (particularly the XBox 360 and PS3) has come at a cost. The Future of DLC DLC undoubtedly has its benefits for both gamers and publishers. It can infinitely increase the life of a game. Our games have seen content they would have never seen outside of a sequel in previous generations. DLC is currently caught in a gray area as far as public perception is concerned. What is a good value? What is greed? In the console space, DLC is in its first generation of strong support. Publishers have already learned some tough lessons through public backlash. By the next round of consoles we can optimistically anticipate most of the kinks to be worked out by those creating the content. Here’s to optimism!